Ready. Set. Go! Jahkiel Maynard and Jakisha Vanterpool kicked up dust behind them as they took off down the Charlotte Amalie High School running track Thursday evening. Maynard and Vanterpool will be flying to California on July 21 to participate in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles with 17 other V.I. athletes.
Maynard and Vanterpool will be participating in the 100-meter dash and shot put at the games, said their coach, CAHS special education teacher Carol Mestemaker, who has been spending a couple hours per day, three or four times a week, training with them since the two have finished school.
Mestemaker’s trainees also include two other track and field athletes, Marquis Aubain and Ariel Turnbull. Another St. Thomas athlete, training with a separate coach, will be attending as a power lifter. The other 14 athletes, who are participating in track and field, bowling, swimming and power lifting, will be traveling from St. Croix.
"I’ve watched these guys grow up. I had them in elementary and then all the way up, and now they’re 18," said Mestemaker, who has taught at CAHS for 15 years. She said she has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1980.
Both Maynard and Vanterpool recently graduated from CAHS with Individualized Education Program diplomas. Mestemaker said she has been preparing them to attend the world games for two years, and is excited for them to have what she called "a once in a lifetime experience."
"They’re going to feel like rockstars. The Special Olympics make these kids, these athletes, feel like they’re Michael Jordan. You have a police escort; people are screaming, clapping," she said.
Stevie Wonder will be playing at the World Games opening ceremony, said Mestemaker, and Michelle Obama will be at the event as well.
"The opening ceremony is just incredible. It’s just like the Olympics. It’s the pomp, the circumstance. The nations march. It gives you goosebumps," she said.
The opening ceremony will be held on July 25 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the only venue in the world to host two Olympiads (1932 and 1984), two Super Bowls (I and VII) and one World Series (1959). It will be broadcast internationally by ESPN.
Vanterpool said it will be her first time visiting the mainland. Maynard said he visited Miami once and is looking forward to traveling again.
There will be a total of 27 people in the V.I. delegation at the Special Olympics World Games, including the athletes, coaches, a delegation head and an assistant. Once they arrive in the host city of La Verne, about 30 miles outside of L.A., they will be paired up with another delegation.
Although in the past the V.I. delegation has often been paired with countries close to home such as the Bahamas, Mestemaker said that this year their partner will be the 125-person delegation from Pakistan.
"We’re really looking forward to just spending some time and learning about each other," she said.
When asked what they were looking forward to the most about traveling to the world games, both Maynard and Vanterpool said they were excited "to meet new people."
According to a press release issued by the Special Olympics of the Virgin Islands, the territory’s athletes have been represented at every World Games since 1979 except for one.
In the same release SOVI Board President Archie Jennings asked participating athletes to remember the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”